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Coin issue turns cherished ethical values upside down

SYMON HILL believes the Royal Mint dangerously confuses remembering the dead with glorifying war

The Royal Mint has revealed the design of a special £2 coin to mark the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the first world war.

It is described as a "commemorative" coin. But it does not commemorate the millions of people who died.

Instead, the coin's design glorifies war and celebrates a leading warmonger.

The coin features a picture of Horatio Kitchener, who was made secretary for war when the carnage broke out. It includes the words "Your country needs you," famously printed on recruiting posters next to the image of Kitchener pointing outwards at whoever happened to be passing.

I've nothing against a coin to mark this important anniversary.

Like many others I will be mourning the millions of lives wasted and asking what we can learn from this futile war.

Nearly everyone in Britain, whatever their views on war, would surely agree that it is right to mourn and commemorate the dead. Why can this not be the coin's focus?

Let's be honest about Kitchener. His supposedly heroic war record includes his command of the troops who carried out the Omdurman massacre in Sudan.

In 1898, Kithchener's troops, armed with machine guns, killed around 10,800 Sudanese people armed with swords, spears and a few rifles. At least another 16,000 Sudanese were wounded. In contrast, 48 British troops were killed in this "battle."

Two years later, Kitchener took command of the British forces in the Boer war. He expanded the network of concentration camps for Boer civilians founded by his predecessor.

In 1902, he became commander-in-chief of the colonial army in India.

The imperial adventures of the British ruling class no more represented the interests of British workers than they respected the rights of those whose lands were invaded.

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914 then prime minister Herbert Asquith appointed Kitchener as war secretary despite his lack of political experience. Asquith recognised that Kitchener was a popular "hero" figure who could help the recruitment effort.

As the prime minister's wife Margot Asquith put it, Kitchener was "more of a great poster than a great man." Among his other actions he urged the cabinet to make things very hard for conscientious objectors and suggested that they were simply trying to avoid danger.

This was hardly the case for objectors who spent years in prison and those who were sentenced to death, even though the sentences were commuted.

When the Royal Mint unveiled the new coin many people took to the internet to express their disgust. Among the groups to campaign against World War I was the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR), a Christian pacifist network formed in Germany and Britain in 1914.

The English branch of FoR has now become the first organisation to criticise this coin design. It has called for it to be replaced with a message of peace.

Other anti-war and human rights groups, both religious and secular, will surely add their voices in the coming days and weeks.

I have begun an online petition on the issue, calling on the Royal Mint to withhold the new coin from circulation and, if there is time, to replace it with one that is truly commemorative.

It may be said that all money is inherently oppressive. British coins already carry unjust messages, not least in the image of a hereditary monarch.

But the Kitchener coin takes things further. It confuses remembering the dead with glorifying war.

The Royal Mint will not be the only one to spread such confusion this year. If we want to truly remember the dead by working for peace, we must take a stand against a coin that champions a warmonger.


Sign the petition at


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